A Careful Look at the Anointing at Bethany

29 March 2021

John 12:1-11

One of the things I like to do with very familiar passages like this one is dive into the passage’s specifics. It can be easy to gloss over words like “nard” and “denarii”, but by looking more closely at them, we can find surprising meanings and connections. 

Let’s look at “nard.” Nard is an amber-colored essential oil taken from a plant in the honeysuckle family, which grows in the Himalayas. It probably would’ve been used sparingly, for special occasions, because of its high cost (it cost about $104  an ounce in today’s currency). But Mary pours out a pound of it. Imagine a pound of essential oil poured all over your feet! The fragrance must have been intense.  

Nard is also called spikenard, which, in Hispanic Catholic iconography, is used to represent St. Joseph. Pope Francis has a branch of spikenard on his papal coat of arms just for this reason. Both Mary of Bethany and St. Joseph poured out their lives to God continually, even when they didn’t understand what God was doing. Mary will stand at the foot of the cross. St. Joseph heard messages from angels. Did either of them fully know the whys and wherefores of God’s plan? Absolutely not. But they trusted that he had one and they poured out their lives in his service, even when it would have been easier to step away and hold back. 

Pope Francis’ coat of arms. The flower in the lower right is spikenard. 

Emily DeArdo


Are we pouring out the best of ourselves to God? Are we giving him our trust and love even when, like St. Joseph, we might not understand what he’s asking us to do? Or are we like Judas, hoarding the best of ourselves?  What do you care about?

Lent Devotional 2021
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